The cherry tree
The cherry tree blossoms for three weeks. For the remaining forty- nine, nothing shows above the ground, but the roots are going deeper and deeper. The phrase in the Chinese Book of Change is: ‘The thunder is buried in the earth.’ The vitality is in the roots. That long time of apparent inertia, and the short period of blossoming, form a unity. It is not that the cherry tree is depressed and sad, and a failure for a long time, but then has a wonderful success, which is, alas, all too passing, all too quickly taken away. No: this is a single tree, not two trees.
The human being, especially the poet, sees the moment of glory, and a long dull stretch when the life is in the roots as two things. But they are one.
In the West there is a tendency to think of a tree or plant in terms of what is above ground only, though in fact the roots are sometimes many times bigger. If we are asked to describe or draw a tree, we present the trunk and branches. But the Chinese character representing a tree shows the roots as well, much more extensive than the branches.
The same point comes up in judo. An experienced teacher looks at a number of keen young students, and notes how the build differs. They all have physical and psycho-physical habits, some good and some bad. For a time the training tends to be the same; it is concerned with all-round development of body, balance, and anticipation; much of the training is ironing out the fixed habits. Later, the teacher brings out the natural facilities of that pupil.
Now suppose that he can see that a particular pupil could excel in a certain throw, which is however rather difficult. If he considers him strong enough in persistence, he may show him the throwing action, and say: ‘When you have practised this a hundred thousand times, you will get the feeling of it. There’s a sort of knack of timing, which can’t be imitated or taught. It can only be felt.’
But if you do the practice, you’ll get it. To do a hundred thousand practice attacks with this throw is going to take some time. They must not be mere repetitions, which soon become mechanical and sloppy. They must each have a keen edge of trying for the inner feel of the throw. If he does a hundred a day, assuming a six-day week, he could do it in three years. Then it will be part of him: he will not have ‘mastered the throw’ but it will be as natural to him as blinking or sneezing. But it would be quite wrong for him to think, after one year of the practice, ‘Oh well, of course, I have got still two years to go; I can’t get it yet.’ Not at all – he may get it any time. The teacher has not told him: ‘You will have to do a hundred thousand before you get it.’ What he told him was: ‘After a hundred thousand, you will certainly have got it.’ He may have got it long before that. As he begins his daily hundred, he must think: ‘I’ll get it now, I’m going to get it now.’
It is not just a question of faith in the teacher. The student must realise that the teacher has faith in him, the student himself. He would not teach it to him, unless he had that faith. When the pupil has faith in the teacher’s faith, he will keep it up.
Failure and failure and failure – but he keeps going. Then suddenly (it is usually sudden), the throw begins to come to him. As the old teachers used to say: ‘The god of waza (technique) comes up in him.’ This may happen long before the hundred thousand figure has been reached. From the pupil’s standpoint, it is like a sort of wonder, sunlight breaking through clouds. But the teacher’s view is different. To him, the thousands of failures, and the final success, are not two: they are a unity. On the judo cherry tree the failures are the root, and the success is the blossom. The tree is not failing and failing, and then suddenly succeeding. The roots were going deeper all the time when there was little surface change.
A keen student must also be on the watch for what are called in judo circles by various uncomplimentary names. One of the least offensive is ‘old soldiers’. One of them will say to him: ‘Look. I’ve been here fourteen years.’ (His grade is not very high, but he is quite impressive with his reminiscences of past masters.) ‘You’ve been told to practise that a hundred thousand times, haven’t you! Well, they say that to everybody – sometimes it’s sixty thousand, sometimes a hundred and twenty thousand. But they don’t expect anyone to actually DO it. It’s impossible; no one could keep it up. And if you did keep it up, you’d simply get hopelessly stale and sick of it. No, they just tell you these things to get you to do serious training, that’s all. And with your build, you’ll never be any good at that particular throw. The teacher doesn’t expect it. But practising it will probably improve your movement a bit, and that’s what he wants. He doesn’t tell you that, of course.’
When a pupil of about eighteen is told this sort of thing by some old boy who seems to have been there a long time and to have seen it all and known it all, he tends to be impressed. He’s likely to think: ‘Is that right? Do they just say these things to everyone without really meaning them? I wonder…’
A young teacher, when he sees what is happening, tends to get uneasy and think: ‘He’s being talked out of this.’ He may ask an old teacher whether he should give the pupil a word of reassurance.
The old teacher says: ‘No! Certainly not. Look at you. In your contest days, you were county champion, then in the national team. Then as a teacher, you have produced some first rate judo men – and you’ve published a couple of books (one of them was quite good) on judo. Well known, aren’t you? Now that boy’s either going to believe you or he’s going to believe that no-good man who’s never done anything himself and doesn’t want anyone else to do anything either. So leave him alone. If he can’t have faith in you now, he’ll always have to be pushed and encouraged. And that’s no basis for a judo man.’
In the West there are some other ‘old soldiers’. Especially intellectual old soldiers. ‘What is the use of practising’, (they argue), ‘until you have the throw perfect? If you practise before it is perfect, then you are practising your mistakes. So you will not get better – you will get worse.’ The argument is stupid. A child learning to ride a bicycle keeps falling off – but he is not practising mistakes. He is searching for the sense of balance, and finally he gets it. Practice makes perfect: you do not have to be a perfect practiser when you begin.
The same point comes up in many inner disciplines. For instance, students of mantra are told by an Indian teacher that the mantra will awaken in them after three million attentive repetitions. Instead of getting a pocket calculator and working it out – that an hour’s repetition each day would reach the total in about seven years – they simply assume it is impossible. Why then is it said? ‘Well you see, this is meant for Indians. Now Indians are a very extreme people: think of those yogis on the bed of nails, or living naked in the Himalayas. Everything in India has to be set out in very extreme forms. That is what they are used to. If it was not put like that, they just wouldn’t accept anything at all. But it is not meant that ordinary people are to follow the instructions literally.’
Sometimes they forget what they said before, and produce the opposite excuse: ‘Well you see, Indians are very lazy people. Think of all those yogis in the Himalayas, running away from the world and doing nothing. To get Indians to do even a little bit, you have to tell them to do a tremendous lot. No one expects them actually to do it all, or even very much. It’s just a way of getting SOMETHING out of them. But that doesn’t apply here, of course. When they say three million, they just mean a few hundred. One has to use one’s own judgement.’
Whether it is in yoga or in judo or in anything else, the people who apply their own ‘judgement’ to vary, and ultimately contradict, a teacher’s instructions, usually end up as little discussion groups on the sidelines.
Judges need to have some qualifications.